Month: March 2011

A Life Worth Celebrating

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

One of the pastors from my church died this last week. He was in his sixties, and, by all accounts, too young to die. For months he fought the cancer that raged within his body, but according to his family and by his own testimony, in death he did not lose the fight, he won. Paul said, “to die is gain”, and in passing from this world, Pastor Billy gained the presence of the Lord.

I didn’t know Pastor Billy personally, but in the last couple of months he was alive, he was admitted to the hospital where I work. My husband, Matthew, told me about it so I made it a priority to go by and see if there was anything he or his family needed. I wasn’t expecting to be able to offer much; it was more of a courtesy or a kindness than anything else.

I knocked on the door quietly and opened it just a little. I saw what appeared to be a healthy, robust man lying in a hospital bed. Appearances can be deceiving. I saw his wife sitting on the foot of the bed. She smiled when she saw me, and motioned me in. I held back, explaining that I was merely there to see if they needed anything… that my husband had recently come on staff at the church, and was told Billy was in the hospital. I did not want to intrude or disturb.

At that point, Billy began waving me into the room. His wife told me to come in, that Billy couldn’t see me. As I walked farther into the room, I could see he had a patch over one eye. I stood at the end of the bed and explained again, to Billy this time, why I had come. I had come to see if I could offer any help to him. Instead, he blessed me.

With surprising strength in his voice, he spoke to me of how folks in my profession spend their days giving their lives away and how much he loved nurses for that reason. He told me how people who spend their lives for themselves live much less fulfilling lives.

Then he told me that he had wondered throughout his life how he would feel about death when it came to him. He then told me two things.

He said that the gospel is real, and that there is no fear in death.

He thanked me for offering to help him, but that in Jesus, he really had all he needed, that he had peace.

I left his room a little off kilter. I had gone in hopes of encouraging Billy and his family, and in hopes of offering what help to them I could. I left realizing that I had been the one helped.

As I made my way down the hallway passing other hospital rooms, I noticed a young black man seated in a chair. He wore a nurse’s uniform and held a glucose monitor in his lap. He looked up at me as I exited Billy’s room, and watched me intently as I walked down the hall. When I got to him, his eyes met mine. It was just a little awkward.

Groping for a way to break the weirdness, I asked, “Have you met Pastor Billy?” He replied, “Oh yes, I have.” He stole another furtive glance toward Billy’s room. I said, “He’s quite a fellow, isn’t he?” “Yes… he is”, came the reply. I laughed to myself and wondered just what Billy had said to him!

Later I heard that Billy had blessed each staff person that had cared for him in one way or another while he was hospitalized. He encouraged them all, thanked them profusely for tending to him, and shared most of all that the gospel is real and in death, there really is no fear for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I attended a memorial service for Billy a couple of days ago. It was intended to celebrate his life. It was both bitter and sweet. Billy spent his life loving his family, and raising up young ministers and sending them off to plant new churches. Many of them where also there at the service. Some had flown great distances to attend. Because of Billy’s leadership, and because he believed in those young church planters, thousands have had the opportunity to know Christ. I also noticed John Maxwell seated on the front row.

His family and friends hosted the service we all attended because they felt Billy had led a life worth celebrating. We sang worship songs, listened to his family and pastor friends share about his life and the special things that he had done and said for and to them. The service celebrated Billy, and honored Christ. I thought it was really nice.

As I sat there in the service I wondered, at the end of my life, will I have led a life that my family and friends find worthy of celebration?

The only thing I noticed, as I looked around the room at all who attended, is that there was far too much black in the room. You know, folks like to wear black to funerals. This is the south, and often tradition wins out over good sense. I think Billy would have preferred brighter colors. I know I would. I had chosen a bright turquoise jacket and felt more than a bit conspicuous. I didn’t care, for I had come to celebrate a life, not to mourn a death.

I have decided that I do want to live a life worth celebrating.

Yet, as I look back at my life so far, I think I can do better. I can invest more, love more, encourage more, and live more of my life for my Savior. So if you come to my funeral one day, don’t wear black. Maybe a nice bright yellow, or how about coral? Everyone, looks great in coral.

Sailing in the Storm

Have you ever been just bone tired? I am sure you have. Do you remember the feeling? Bone tired gets a bit different the older you get. A bone tired twenty something really has nothing to complain about. Bone tired at forty something is a different thing entirely. When you are my age, exhaustion messes with your ability to make good sense.

Matthew and I are in the throws of remodeling our “new” house. Matthew is quite handy, and I am a pretty darn good assistant. Yet we both notice that the later in the night it gets, and the more tired we get, the less able we are at making sound decisions. It’s neck and neck really, but our minds give up a little before our bodies. At that point, it’s time to call it a night.

We are up against the clock right now. Even as I type this I am stressing out. Monday morning, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, the sheetrock men are coming to the house to put back together that which we have torn apart. That’s good news. The bad news is we are not ready for them to come yet. There are holes to cut in the floor, more holes to cut in vent tubing, insulation to hang, some rewiring to do, and a design feat of miraculous proportions in figuring out how to frame for the ceiling in our basement. Once that decision is made, it must be accomplished… all before Monday morning.

Ever bite off more than you can chew? It’s unpleasant. So is this mess we are in. As in all home improvement projects, one improvement almost without fail, leads to one more. For in tearing down one wall, you find something unexpected back there… and cha-ching you have your next issue to deal with…. And so on.

Fortunately there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By hook or by crook, we gotta finish this mess by mid April. We can endure anything for three more weeks, right?

It’s when the messes we find ourselves in have no end in sight that we really start to go bonkers. We can go right off the deep end when we see no resolution to our problems. We just want to wave the white flag of surrender and throw in the towel. Unfortunately, some have done this quite literally.

Alas, we are not promised a life of bliss as followers of Christ. On the contrary, the Bible promises that we will have trouble. How about that for an encouraging verse, eh? Yet even with that promise, we are surprised, offended even, should trouble come knocking on our door interrupting our nicely planned out lives.

Our response when trouble comes is the key.

Whether we can see an end to our issues or even if there is no end in sight, our response makes all the difference. Once, several years ago, my husband was on staff at a church with some frustrating issues. Oh, you know that church?? On a particularly trying day, I sent an email to another staff member asking how we were supposed to survive on such tumultuous waters. I won’t forget his response. He told me, in the storms of life, we need to simply put our sails up and ride the waves out. That God is doing something and it’s exciting to see what it is.

I am quite fond of Andrew Peterson’s latest song. The first line is, “Well I was 19, you were 21… The year we got engaged.” I like it because it sounds like Matthew and me. While this is a song of marriage and the commitment involved there are a couple of lines that speak to how we should handle life’s unpleasantness…es. “And we’re dancing in the minefields…We’re sailing in the storms”

Who dances in minefields? Grab a mental picture of that. Who sails during a storm? When I heard this, I was taken back to what my friend had told me years ago.

Our response to trials that come is the key.

First we must expect trouble to come, because if it hasn’t knocked on your door lately, it will. (Aren’t you just so encouraged?) When it does knock, we have to answer the door with the full armor of God on because then we are prepared to meet it. We knew it was coming, so we are prepared. We don’t get caught with our pants down if we are expecting something to happen.

And then we cling with all our might to the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. Truth is, the verse that tells us to expect trouble also tells us to expect something else…

John 16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Whatever our troubles are, however desperate we may feel, we must continue to place our hope and trust in the one who has overcome the troubles of this world. It’s when we are bone tired, mentally and physically, that He’s just getting started…

“Seems logical to me, Captain”

My brother and I grew up watching Star Trek. I was no “Trekkie”, but I guess I saw every episode at least once. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came out I watched it too, but I just felt it lacked something of the original. I found an early episode of the original show recently on television, and had my kids sit down to watch it with me. I was excited to share this childhood memory with them. We lasted five minutes. It just wasn’t like I remembered it at all. It was all corny and cheesy… what was high tech then is laughable now.

Still, I remember Captain Kirk being overly passionate about his intergalactic missions, and I remember Mr. Spock being completely unemotional and logical about everything. It was an interesting pairing. Captain Kirk would rush in where angels feared treading if it meant he could complete his mission, while Mr. Spock insisted that each action must fit into his logical conclusions. They were like two sides of a coin, each different from the other, but each a necessary part of the story.

As each of my kids passed through first grade, they were all, in turn, taught about patterns.

Red, blue, red, blue….

Circle, circle, square. Circle, circle, square.

They were being taught to recognize order and form logical conclusions based on prior information. We like to do that. We like for things to fit into logical patterns. We teach our kids to color inside the lines and to think inside the box. I remember one of my kids, as a preschooler, wanted to be a dump truck. He didn’t want to drive one. He wanted to be one. Completely illogical. And I told him so. (Mr. Spock would have been proud.) Shame on me. He would have eventually figured that out, but I put an end to his imaginings on the subject.

When Matthew went to seminary we spent three years wading in deep theological waters. It was exhausting. I say we, because when your husband goes through seminary, you get to tag along for the ride.

Our early bible teachings were challenged. Some we held onto, some we replaced with others that seemed more… logical. By the time he received his degree, we had both pretty well settled on our theological mindset. We put God in His proper box. It was all neat and nice. We had very few loose ends, and everything was pretty clear for us. Seminary does that. But seminary should never be the end, rather it should just be the jumping off place for knowing and understanding who God is.

Our pastor recently spoke about who Jesus is. He talked about miracles and how Jesus did illogical things for completely logical reasons. He talked about how we like patterns and predictability. He talked about how even in Jesus’ day that there were those who tried to figure out how He performed the miracles of healing. They saw how He touched people with His hands and they were healed. So they surmised the power to heal must be in His hands. (Patterns) So when the guy brought his blind friend to Jesus to be healed, he told Jesus how to do it. Imagine that! He told Jesus to touch him. He had Jesus in a box. But Jesus doesn’t like boxes, so He busted out and healed the guy with spit and dirt. What’s logical about spitting on someone?

If everything we believe about God is required to find it’s logical place in our brains before it makes it to our hearts, then God will only be as big as our minds. I didn’t say that. My pastor did. But I liked it. The bible clearly states that God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not ours.

I’m tired of squeezing God into this box I’ve made for him.
I’m betting He’s tired of getting squeezed. So this is a new thing for me. I’m not throwing off all that I believe about who God is, and who I am in the mix. I think I have a lot of that right. I’m just telling Him that I am open. My arms are open, my eyes are open, and my heart is open. I am ready to let God be God in whatever way He chooses. He can touch, spit or be a dump truck. I’m throwing away His box, and I’m expecting big God-sized things.

Not All That Profound

I’ve been reminded of something this week. It’s not really all that profound, but this blog is usually generated out of things going on in and around my life, so here it is.

It’s far easier to tear something down than it is to build something up.

I know. I said it wasn’t all that profound. I spaketh the truth…eth.

Matthew and I recently bought another house. I say another, because we still own a house in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a nice house and I will sell it to you should you have a hankering to live there. We are not trying to have a house collection.

Our new house is not really new, it’s just new to us, but we completely love it. Or we will. The ink was not dry on the loan papers before my handy husband was in there tearing down walls and pulling up carpet. He thinks nothing of things like pulling down sheetrock walls and moving electrical outlets. One day the house had a drop ceiling in the basement, the next day it didn’t. One day the potty was in the bathroom, and the next it’s on the back porch. This is Alabama, no one really thinks much about potties on the porch here.

All this demolition is exhilarating to my husband. It stresses me out. But my husband has vision. He can see what will be. I see a monumental mess that needs to be cleaned up. I keep pushing him to tell me when it is time to put things back together again. I ask, “When will we be done tearing this house apart?” I am eager to set things right again. It’s just in my nature. Whether it’s a house or a relationship, when something is broken I want it to be fixed as soon as possible. Yet putting things right again takes much longer than it did to tear them apart.

Great relationships can be torn apart in just a word or a careless action.
But building it back again takes so much more effort. The Bible says that there is both life and death in our words. The book of James speaks volumes about controlling our tongues. My brother and I used to fight a lot as kids. We’d say nasty things to each other like siblings do. I’d call him a nerd, and he’d tell me I was adopted. Not that there’s anything wrong with being adopted. We were kids. What did we know? (There’s nothing wrong with being a nerd either. Most of us now work for nerds.)

My mom, who didn’t have any siblings, never could understand how we could say such things. She’d say, “If you can’t say something nice just don’t say anything at all.” Had we heeded her warning, we’d probably have rarely spoken to each other.

But that’s just the way of siblings growing up. Thankfully as adults, I can’t remember the last nasty thing my brother said to me. But what about my other relationships? If I am not careful, I am still capable of letting a careless word tear down what has taken me years to build up.

I’m pretty sure we are nearing the end of the demolition phase of this new house project. (Please, Lord.) Soon new walls will go up, new carpet will go down, and fresh new paint will go on the walls. The potty will go back inside the bathroom. Then this empty shell of a house will morph into our family’s new home. Yet the lesson I’ve learned, albeit not very profound, will stick with me.

I need to be about encouraging and building up those I care about, not tearing them down. I need to invest in the relationships that matter to me with words of edification so that the bonds that hold them together grow stronger. I need to remember the damage a carelessly spoken word can do to a precious heart.

Become a Student of Scripture

Having a seminary graduate for a husband can be a handicap at times. I’m not real good at remembering specific references in scripture. I mean I know it’s in there, I just don’t always know where to find it. If I don’t find it quickly on my own, I can call out a phrase or story I’m looking for and Matthew can usually tell me where to look. Handy. I value his education. But if I am not careful, I can use his knowledge to take the place of seeking that for myself. It’s just lazy, really.

My grandmother was a student of scripture her whole life. She studied the Bible every day. Her Bible margins are filled with hand written notes she wrote. One of these days I hope to possess that special Bible. Her knowledge of scripture was ever expanding. She never got to the point that she had learned enough.

I recently worked a Saturday shift at the hospital. Weekends tend to move a little slower at the hospital. We had a good bit of downtime, and so my partner and I sat down and talked a while. Finally, she said, “I’m going to stop talking now. I’ve talked so much I’m making my own head hurt. I think I’ll read a little.” She pulled out this big black Bible and a notebook. This was a serious Bible. Not one of those fluffy purple Bibles with a pink flower on the front. (Not that there’s anything wrong with purple Bibles.)

I said, “What are you doing?” She shared with me that she had started going through books of the Bible and taking notes. She said that she was tired of not knowing where to find things in the Bible. “It’s just something I’ve decided to do.” She said.

I loved it. She was becoming a student of scripture all on her own. She had a desire to know God’s word. She didn’t want to depend on someone else for her Bible knowledge. She was taking it upon herself to infuse scripture into her life.

The pastor at my church recently shared something that might have been a bit prickly for most churchgoers to hear. He told the congregation that he did not feel it was his job to feed them.

Let that sink in.

How many times have you heard of someone leaving a church because “they just weren’t being fed”? I’d like to have a nickel for every time I’ve heard that. Instead, our pastor shared that it is his belief that it is his role to lead us to feed ourselves.

Now before you find yourself all offended at that think about the saying-
“If you give a man a fish he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Most of us are just lazy. We want someone else to do the hard work for us. Becoming a student of scripture takes work. Effort. But if we don’t know it for ourselves then how do we go about making the decisions of life in a way that is based in scripture? How do we use scripture as our guide if we don’t know what it says for ourselves? How, then, do we test the validity of what we have heard if we do not know the Bible personally? We are left to doing what feels right. That can go badly.

The answer to all of life’s problems is found in Scripture. All of them. It’s not too late to become a student. Allow it to become the lamp to your feet and the light to your path.

How Are You Doing?

How are you doing? It’s just a question. As I pass people in the hallways at work I ask it of total strangers. They ask it of me. At the grocery store as I put my groceries on the conveyer the cashier says, “How you doin’?”

But sometimes you are asked that question and it means more. It depends on the person asking. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred when I am asked “How are you doing?” I give a quick “Fine!” or “Great!” and move on. Why? Because ninety-nine out of a hundred time that’s really the answer that the person is wanting.

I understand that the cashier at the Publix is not really interested in the cares of my life. The stranger I pass in the hallway at work probably doesn’t have time for me to really tell them all that is going on in my life on any given day. And why would I? What vested interest do they have in my life?

But then there are those few precious people who ask it and you just know. They really don’t want to hear “Fine.” or “Great”. You can see it in their eyes. Either that or they’ve got an eyelash or something. Either way, you launch into how you really are.

My sister-in –law is here for a precious few days. I’ve not actually laid eyes on her face in person in nearly two years. We live fourteen hours apart and in all honesty it’s a world away. So late in the evening, with kids all distracted with Marmaduke, we sat at the kitchen table and she asked.

“So, how are you?”

There it was. Because I know her, I knew she meant it. She really wanted to know. At least I hope she did, because I told her. Fortunately things are really great now, and I was able to share with her how God has really put things right in my life and in the lives of my family members over the last year. I got to share of His goodness and His grace…of new adventures in ministry and more.

And she listened. And she cared. And then it was her turn. I asked, and I cared, too.

So who is it for you? Who is it that cares how you are doing….really doing? You may find that at times you avoid that person and that question. Sometimes you’d rather not hash out how you are really doing. Sometimes how you are really doing is too painful to bring up. No way can it get fixed in one conversation with a great friend. But let me tell you… it’s a great start.

I am thankful for the few people in my life that mean it when they ask. Those are the people who are willing to walk the path with me as much as they can. They are willing to help me carry the burdens I bear and they are gifts straight from God.

Think about those people in your life. Thank God for them. I’m cutting short my blog today… like I said, I’ve not seen her in almost two years. I’m going to hang out with her some today, tell her how I’m really doing… Let her do the same…

Just Pray Already

I get to lead a middle school girl’s small group from my church each week. Let me say, its never a dull hour. Middle school girls are full of drama, laughter, and they love to talk. They also ask honest questions. Sometimes they ask hard questions.

We recently spent some time talking about prayer. Their questions were open, and honest. We talked about making sure we leave time in the conversation for God to respond.

One girl asked, “How do I know its God talking to me and not just my own voice I hear?” That was a smart question. She’s twelve.

Another said, “Sometimes I fall asleep praying… or my mind wanders in the middle.” Yep. I wish I could have told her it gets better as you get older.

We talked about praying all the time. The Bible does say we are to pray without ceasing. This generation probably has more opportunity to understand this concept than any prior. Thanks to cell phones and texting they completely understand the concept of a running dialogue. They do it with their friends all day long… and sometimes, all night long! Too bad there’s no app for texting with God, but at least they understood the idea.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can approach the throne of God with confidence. Verses 14 and 15 explain why. It’s because of Jesus. Because He sits at His Father’s right hand and intervenes on our behalf. He’s our big brother and He has our back.

I can remember a time when my older brother had my back with my parents. It shocked me that he went to bat for me like the way he did. I wanted to have permission to do something and they had said no. When he went to them on my behalf and explained the importance of why they should allow me to do whatever it was, they relented and allowed it. He was even willing to take responsibility for me in the activity.

Imagine Jesus as your big brother going to bat for you with the Father every day. Wow.

My kids don’t always have my full attention. Sometimes I have to multitask. Sometimes I am in a foul mood, and they steer clear of me until I unwind myself. (Smart kids) Sometimes I am still upset with them over something they did yesterday, and am unwilling to listen to their needs and wants.

Sometimes we tend to view God as we viewed our parents, but God is God and when we approach Him we always have His full attention. We don’t have to wait for God’s mood to settle first, we don’t have to wait on Him to get over something we’ve done previously. At any time, for any need, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence that we will have our needs met through His great mercy.

I encouraged my girl’s to start a prayer journal. I told them to start writing down the things they ask the Lord to do in their lives and in the lives of those they love. I told them to sit back and watch the ways that prayer will change their situations and how it will change them. How over time they will begin to hear God’s voice more clearly the more they spend time talking to Him. How they will no longer fall asleep talking to God leaving important things unsaid, if they are talking to Him throughout the day.

I know lots of folks struggle with prayer. They fear it has to be formal and full of flowery speech when in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. They feel as though they can’t bother God with the trivial things of life, and reserve talking to God during those desperate times. The problem with that thinking is, if you have been going to God all along, everyday, all day long, your relationship is different. It’s richer, closer, and more familiar. Talking with God becomes second nature, and not something you have to prepare a speech for. You understand that prayer is your first resort and not your last. Prayer comes before panic, before action, and it comes that way naturally.

When was the last time you talked to your Father? Whether its been five minutes or five months, He’d love to chat. Just pray already.